Real iTunes killer: Review of Amazon’s DRM-less music download store

September 25, 2007

The real iTunes killer: Review of Amazon's DRM-less music download storeAmazon’s long awaited DRM-less music download store just hit the web, and, for a moment there, I thought it might have become vaporware. Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be the case, giving me a chance to put the store through its paces. Here’s my review of the Amazon MP3 Download Store.

Amazon is going out on a limb here, offering DRM-less MP3 tracks at 256kbps at $0.89 per song. DRM-less music download stores have been done before, but they usually lack in music selection. Amazon is looking to change the music download world by giving users the opportunity to do anything they want with their music while offering a huge selection of both popular and unpopular/underground artists, but does it do this well?

Selection: What does it offer?

Because of my past experience with DRM-less music stores, I was expecting disappointment when I started searching for artists. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Amazon turned up multiple albums for nearly every artist I typed into the search box, and, for the few that it didn’t find, it offered physical CDs for purchase through Amazon’s traditional store.

Some of the artists I found include: Immortal Technique, Barry White, Kanye West, Sublime, Snoop Dog, NWA Minus the Bear, Psycostick, Royksopp, Sinai Beach, Yellowman, Madonna, Eminem, Paul Oakenfold, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, Underoath, Maroon 5, The Rolling Stones, He is Legend, Johnny Cash, and more.

Unfortunately, and this would be expected from any download store, I was unable to find a significant amount of the much smaller bands that I listen to; however, the MP3 Download Store is still in beta form with new content being added every day. Regardless, the selection is overall impressive.

Pricing: Is it worth it?

Pricing for an individual song is $0.89 as opposed to iTunes, which offers singles at $0.99 a piece. Albums range anywhere from under two dollars to over over $20.

Generally, I found pricing to be the same as or less than what is offered in the iTunes store. For example, DJ Tiesto’s Just Be goes for $6.99 on Amazon’s MP3 Download Store, but it goes for $9.99 at the iTunes store. However, Paul van Dyk’s Global costs $12.99 at both stores. Never did I find an album to be more expensive at the Amazon store and I wouldn’t expect it as Amazon is strongly going after value.

An added benefit of downloading your music via Amazon as opposed to iTunes is the lack of DRM. Most of iTunes’ music comes encoded with DRM, preventing you from using YOUR music on anything other than an iPod or the computer to which the music is registered.

iTunes music also comes in AAC format at 192kbps, a music format that is not supported on many other devices. Amazon’s music comes in MP3 format at 256kps, a format that is largely supported on other devices and the higher bitrate provides for better sound quality. In fairness, I should note that Apple offers a small portion of their content DRM-free at 256kbps AAC, but that only applies to any music from the record label EMI.

The Download Experience

In order to download music via Amazon, you first have to install the Amazon download manager, which is required for albums but not for singles. The installation was really easy on my iMac, which only required a few clicks and not even a drag-and-drop to the Applications folder. I’m sure the process would have been just as easy on a Windows machine.

Similar to iTunes, Amazon lets you preview most tracks before you download them. This came in really hand as I searched for an album to purchase.

I found Pauk van Dyk’s Global, tested it, and went through with the purchase. I already had an Amazon account, so all I had to do is click the “Buy MP3 album with 1-Click” and it was mine. When you purchase an album, your computer downloads a very small file. Normally, you can open this file automatically in the Amazon download manager without it touching your desktop, but I accidentally downloaded it directly to my desktop. I simply double clicked the file, and the manager opened up.

The time it took to download the songs took a bit longer than expected. I was expecting it to be just as quick as iTunes, but that was not the case. Although, faster than anything I’ve ever experienced downloading via P2P, the slower-than-iTunes download speed could have been attributed to my college network being on overhaul around this time of the day, mid afternoon. Either way, it took about 10-15 minutes to download Global, which consists of 10 eight minute songs. As each song finished downloading, the download manager placed the files conveniently in their correct artist and album folders in my iTunes music folder.

Here’s the Deal

The Amazon MP3 Download Store is absolutely great. Even in it’s beta stage I can confidently call it the best online download store – period.

Simply the fact that it offers its vast selection of music without DRM makes it better than iTunes, and iTunes doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to pricing. There’s also no monthly fee, a feature that gives eMusic great value but forces you to pay the fee up front every month, which could easily go to waste as my problem with eMusic is that I could hardly find anything of interest to me.

Apple better act quick if it wants to keep up because, as of today, all that’s going for the iTunes Store is its popularity. DRM on music is dead, and any company that doesn’t understand that is going to get left in the dust. But those that embrace the changing times are going to be looking at a profitable future.


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